In every way that Lamu Town disappointed, Stone Town lived up to its legendary allure as well as its UNESCO designation as a World Heritage Site. The town has expanded considerably since its days as the capital of the Zanzibar Sultanate, so on our way to see the sights we drove through some wide streets lined with dilapidated buildings that would have fit in neatly with New York’s inner-city project housing. However, the historic center has retained its winding, narrow cobblestone streets and the intermingling between its African, Arab, Indian, and European influences.
The dilemma for those who suffer from acute wanderlust is whether to explore new places or return to the ones that enthralled one’s spirit the first time around. For us, Zanzibar definitely falls into the latter category. Not only does the name of this splendid island stir the imagination, evoking visions of sultans, spices bazaars, and adventure on the high seas, but Zanzibar also boasts some of the best beaches in East Africa. With our Tanzanian visas expiring early next month, we took last Friday off and spent a long weekend in paradise.
Rarely warmer than 80°F and almost never colder than 50°F, Nairobi’s climate is perfect nine or ten months out of the year. The two rainy seasons are the exceptions to the rule, as torrential downpours inundate large parts of the city. The long rains typically come in April-May so we tried to time our R&R to coincide with the rainy season and only caught the beginning of the rains this year. The short rains are harder to predict, especially with the advent of climate change. At least half a dozen different times over the course of the last several months, we’ve watched Kenyans look skyward and declare the start of the short rains, only to see the rains dissipate after a few days and give way to weeks of uninterrupted sunshine.
Thanks to a friend, D was recently able to watch one of the Yankees’ postseason games. It was a miserable experience all around. For the first three innings, the internet connection was so slow that the feed frequently froze. So D spent a lot of time looking at still images of baseball players adjusting their uniforms, fans making goofy faces, and managers chewing tobacco in the dugout. After midnight (towards the end of the third inning), the feed improved, but the game deteriorated, with the Yankees playing so poorly that D nearly found himself wishing for the still images he had spent an hour cursing.
George Carlin used to joke that language always gives us away. We won’t get into his bigger-dick foreign policy theory, but he was pretty spot on in describing American English as a language of euphemisms. Ours is a language adept at masking reality, one that is filled with anodyne words that cloak harsh or uncomfortable truths. Language is a reflection of culture, so it should come as no surprise that a culture in which euphemisms thrive produces political leaders who brazenly lie to the public and offer noncommittal langauge (“that was not inteded to be a factual statement”) by way of apology when they are caught.
One cold, wintery Chicago night a few years ago, D left his tiny grad school studio apartment and went for a walk around campus. He didn’t have a particular direction in mind; in fact, his brain felt too addled from countless hours of writing to think straight. He found himself absentmindedly probing at the unanswered questions that are easy to ignore when one is in grad school and has an assignment due date. Why was he writing a 20-page paper on ancient Japanese burial rituals? That’s an easy one – because at some point he had decided that Zen and History sounded like an interesting course. How was this minute historiographic knowledge going to help him once he left the comfy confines of the university? No good answer presented itself. What relevance did any of the detailed and uniformly obscure research papers have to the career he intended to pursue? Another blank.
“Sir,” the marine guard on duty greeted D a few minutes before midnight, “I’ve got a situation.” Coming on a late-night phonecall, these just may be the four worst words in the English language. At any rate, they definitely outrank “we have to talk” (or “whose bra is this”) in that respect.
Perched on a sprawling 100-acre estate that straddles the equator, the Mount Kenya Safari Club is nothing short of picture-perfect. Its neatly landscaped gardens, gourmet dining, and plush accommodations offer an alluring contrast to the rugged mountain whose snow-fringed peak can be glimpsed in the early morning hours towering above the landscape. Originally the retreat of movie-star William Holden, the Club is at once one of the most luxurious and easily accessible hotels in Kenya, as it’s located less than a 3-hour drive from Nairobi along a road that is paved the whole way.
Working for the government, one gains an appreciation for the apparently limitless human ability to add needless layers of complexity to every conceivable mundane process. At times it feels like the entire bureaucracy is premised on the hedging and vacillations of a schizophrenic, which is all a long way of saying that we finally have out transfer timing figured out…we think.